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The History of American Higher Education

The History of American Higher Education: Learning and Culture from the Founding to World War II

Roger L. Geiger
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 584
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  • Book Info
    The History of American Higher Education
    Book Description:

    This book tells the compelling saga of American higher education from the founding of Harvard College in 1636 to the outbreak of World War II. The most in-depth and authoritative history of the subject available,The History of American Higher Educationtraces how colleges and universities were shaped by the shifting influences of culture, the emergence of new career opportunities, and the unrelenting advancement of knowledge.

    Roger Geiger, arguably today's leading historian of American higher education, vividly describes how colonial colleges developed a unified yet diverse educational tradition capable of weathering the social upheaval of the Revolution as well as the evangelical fervor of the Second Great Awakening. He shows how the character of college education in different regions diverged significantly in the years leading up to the Civil War-for example, the state universities of the antebellum South were dominated by the sons of planters and their culture-and how higher education was later revolutionized by the land-grant movement, the growth of academic professionalism, and the transformation of campus life by students. By the beginning of the Second World War, the standard American university had taken shape, setting the stage for the postwar education boom.

    Breathtaking in scope and rich in narrative detail,The History of American Higher Educationis the most comprehensive single-volume history of the origins and development of American higher education.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5205-5
    Subjects: Education, History

Table of Contents

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    (pp. xiii-xx)

    Higher educationhas always denoted a particular level and kind of learning in modern Western societies. It has been defined by officially designated institutions—universities—which alone have been given the power to confer the degrees that certify acquisition of such knowledge. Higher education has aspired to provide access to the most advanced learning of an age. Such learning implies a distinctive culture that marks educated persons and prepares them for respected positions in society. Higher education thus constitutes a gateway to valued careers—some, like the learned professions, that require mastering sophisticated systems of applied knowledge and others that...

    (pp. 1-32)

    Higher education in british north america was conceived on October 28, 1636, when the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay “agreed to give 400£ towards a schoale or colledge.” Despite the ambiguity of this wording, there is no doubt that the Puritan leaders intended to provide education comparable to that of Oxford and Cambridge, with which they were familiar. Provision had already been made for a preparatory grammar or Latin school in Boston; the new founding was intended for “instructing youth of riper years and literature after they came from grammar schools.” This relatively generous appropriation triggered a train...

  3. 2 COLONIAL COLLEGES, 1740–1780
    (pp. 33-88)

    In the mid-eighteenth century, colleges in the American colonies doubled in number and changed in character. The College of New Jersey (1746), King’s College in New York (1754), and the College of Philadelphia (1755) were chartered and began instruction. The new colleges on the New York–Philadelphia axis were products of the rapid growth of the economies and populations of the Middle Colonies, although each reflected the distinctive demography and religious character of its surroundings. Unlike the settings of the first three colleges, the entire region was populated by diverse peoples with differing Protestant beliefs. However, initially only a few...

    (pp. 89-122)

    British troops passed through Cambridge on April 19, 1775, on their way to and from the first battle of the Revolutionary War. Eight years later, the Continental Congress was meeting in Nassau Hall when it received the Treaty of Paris that ended the War for Independence. The colleges were intimately involved with the American Revolution, partly through active commitment and often by being too close to hostilities. Only remote Dartmouth avoided closing or dispersing at some point during the war. College halls were some of the largest buildings in the colonies and the first to be commandeered for barracks or...

    (pp. 123-172)

    Historian Gordon Wood captured the perplexing transformation of the Early Republic:

    The popular social forces unleashed by the Revolution … transformed society and culture in ways that no one in 1776 could have predicted. … In many respects this new democratic society was the very opposite of the one revolutionary leaders had envisaged.¹

    The idea of equality overwhelmed the republican ideals of the founders. The colleges fit awkwardly with this egalitarian spirit. Insofar as they sought to educate gentlemen, who expected deference from social inferiors, they in effect promoted inequality. This role was instinctively defended in most colleges, given the...

    (pp. 173-214)

    In the 1820s the college once again became the focal point of American higher education. Interest in the colleges took three forms: the desire to improve and perfect the basic pattern of the American college; the desire to fundamentally change that model; and efforts by diverse groups in American society to found colleges that they could call their own. The emergence and proliferation of separate professional schools gave the colleges a clearer mission, but just how this mission ought to be accomplished provoked experiment and controversy. But the welling popularity of colleges could not be gainsaid. The number of functioning...

    (pp. 215-268)

    In 1830 president jeremiah day instituted a new system of discipline at Yale. Instead of admonitions and fines, students would be assessed marks for missing chapel or recitations or other “improprieties of conduct”: Sixteen marks brought a disciplinary warning and a letter to parents; thirty-two marks meant another letter; and forty-eight marks usually meant suspension for a term. However, twelve marks were forgiven at the end of each term and thirty-two, at the conclusion of the school year. Earlier that year Yale students had rebelled against an increase in the rigor of math recitations, resulting in the expulsion of almost...

    (pp. 269-314)

    The civil war era brought far-reaching change. Economic development accelerated in the North; devastation and dislocation plagued the South; and the trans-Mississippi West was opened for settlement and exploitation. These years marked the transition from a predominantly preindustrial to an industrializing economy. The war is conventionally regarded as an inflection point in higher education as well, heralding the inception of characteristically modern institutions. However, this view misrepresents the actual conditions and the pace of change during the midcentury decades, from the 1850s to the 1880s. The educational institutions that arose and flourished during this era are more accurately described as...

    (pp. 315-364)

    “A university, in any worthy sense of the term, must grow from seed. It cannot be transplanted from England or Germany,” wrote Charles W. Eliot in 1869.¹ The United States in the 1860s had many institutions that bore the name of university, including the one over which Eliot was about to preside, but he was right in asserting that none merited the term and more prescient in sensing that the country would have to evolve its own version of that ideal. Notions of universities dated from the dawn of the Republic; however, by this date they encompassed breadth and depth...

    (pp. 365-422)

    The academic transformation that produced American universities was accompanied by a parallel transformation of the undergraduate experience. Beyond the triumph of electives and academic disciplines in the classroom, student life outside of class assumed a richness and intensity that imparted new significance to the meaning of college. Any connection between these two developments would appear to be circumstantial. Campuses that clung to the old regime—Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale—in fact were the leaders of the collegiate revolution. Although the timing of the two revolutions was remarkably similar, the transformation of collegiate life had a dynamic all its own. The trend...

  11. 10 MASS HIGHER EDUCATION, 1915–1940
    (pp. 423-478)

    The united states was at war with the central Powers for just 19 months, but the experience precipitated far-reaching changes in America’s economy, society, culture, and higher education. The wartime boom in production and profits evolved, after a postwar recession, into the consolidation of corporate oligopolies and the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties. The superficial wartime unity of American society began to unravel soon after the Armistice, but the industrial economy enhanced the standard and style of living of most Americans. America’s genteel Victorian idealism sustained the nation through the “war to end all wars” and provided moralistic support for...

    (pp. 479-538)

    Foundations played a large role in shaping higher education in the early twentieth century due to conditions prevailing in the American polity and society. Rapid economic and social development seemed to call for national policies and programs, but the realities of regional politics precluded such initiatives by the federal government. This lacuna was filled partly by voluntary organizations, but they had limited capacity to formulate or implement national policies. The new foundations entered this same space, with greater resources to effect social action. In higher education, the General Education Board justified its actions because “neither the national government nor any...

    (pp. 539-552)

    This history of american higher education has focused on institutions—colleges and universities legally empowered to award the degrees that certify advanced education. These institutions by 1940 constituted a system whose structure, formal rules, and powerful traditions had evolved over three centuries. This evolution was affected by features of American society outside of higher education, most importantlyculture, careers, and knowledge. These phenomena are multifaceted, change over time, and defy precise definition. Their influence is occasionally obvious but is more often subtly manifested in beliefs, expectations, and behavior. Their effects have influenced American higher education in an evolving manner from...